A piece of pop fluff with a high bred name, the new movie adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS has unrealized potential. Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow play Finn and Estella, two young people who never discover pure love as they seize the day before going their separate ways. Though touching on themes of fate and romance, this movie contains minimal elements of what makes the Dickens' tale great and includes a perverse modernization by inserting extensive sex and sensual scenes.
Modern remakes of older movies are in fashion today, with movies like FLUBBER and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. Remaking classic novels and placing them in modern settings have been a little more tricky, with the stunning but largely unseen LES MISERABLES of a few years ago, which was set, in part, during World War II, contrasting with the popular but problematic version of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO AND JULIET.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS attempts to bring the characters and situations of the famous Charles Dickens’ novel to life in modern day America with only marginal success. Though performances are eager and the script above average, the eroticizing of this story and the removal of the hard times of 19th Century England, make this movie more of an earnest experiment than an entertaining crowd pleaser.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS opens in the 1970’s in the Florida panhandle where an orphaned, pre-pubescent Finnegan Bell wades through water, sketching fish and marine life. Out of the water lurches a criminal (Robert DeNiro) who demands that Finn return that night to a remote seashore with food and wire cutters to remove the shackles which bind his feet. Finn honors the criminal’s request, but the criminal kidnaps Finn and insists that Finn transport him to Mexico in Finn’s little outboard boat. On the way, a police boat approaches, and the criminal jumps out of the boat and hides behind a buoy. As the police boat tows Finn back to shore, Finn tosses a life preserver overboard for the criminal to use.
Later, Finn’s uncle, Joe (Chris Cooper), takes Finn on a gardening job at the opulent but run-down home, Paradiso Perdido, owned by an eccentric woman named Nora Dinsmoor, played to excess by Anne Bancroft. Ms. Dinsmoor is also the caretaker of her young niece, Estella, who sees Finn in the garden. Later, Ms. Dinsmoor invites Finn over to her home, to entertain she and her niece. There, Finn not only discovers how rich and strange Ms. Dinsmoor actually is, but he begins to fall in love with Estella.
In the 1980’s as teenagers, Finn (Ethan Hawke) becomes a fisherman, still visits Ms. Dinsmoor and watches Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow) become a high-society girl. He realizes he is out of her league when he is shunned at a formal party which Estella is attending. Nevertheless, she teases him romantically and sexually, sealing his obsession for her.
Estella leaves Florida for Paris and New York, and Finn remains, until one day, he is given an anonymous grant to set up an art studio in New York and have a showing at a major gallery. Finn goes to New York and achieves success as a painter. He finds Estella there, and again his lust for her is enflamed. He is heartbroken to discover that she is engaged, but he is able to have a few sexual trysts with her before the wedding. She leaves New York with her new husband, and Finn discovers that his anonymous benefactor is not who he had originally thought.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS is a very artistic movie with Florida landscapes, Manhattan cityscapes and Finn’s sketches and paintings. The photography and costuming are attractive. Story quality is enhanced with an A-list cast, and newcomers to the story will be surprised by the unexpected ending.
Nevertheless, GREAT EXPECTATIONS doesn’t realize its potential, unlike Finn, who becomes a famous and wealthy New York artist, but in the process loses relationship with those he holds most dear. Dickens’ purists will cringe at the modernization of the setting, and language style. Only a minimal amount of the original Dickens’ language is preserved. (Perhaps a greater tragedy would be is if the movie was set in the past but used modern language like TITANIC.) Furthermore, the relationship between Finn and Estella is shown to be primarily sexual in contrast to Dickens insightful novel. Like TITANIC, there is a prolonged scene where a woman strips and poses for a young male artist as an act of foreplay.
Hawke and Paltrow perform adequately in their roles, but DeNiro’s talents are wasted as the criminal, and Bancroft is laughable as the flamboyant Ms. Dinsmoor. GREAT EXPECTATIONS merely touches on the deeper themes that Dickens’ tells so wonderfully about fate, realizing potential and discovering the mechanics of what drives our lives. Teenage audiences may enjoy this movie because of the attractive leads and the snazzy look. It even has a contemporary rock music score. Nevertheless, as a piece of pop fluff with a high bred name, this movie represents unrealized potential.
(Pa, LL, V, SSS, NNN, A, D, M) Pagan worldview with fatalistic elements & regret; 20 obscenities & 5 profanities; mild violence including abduction & man stabbed with knife; strong sexual scenes with seduction, prolonged foreplay, woman strips & poses nude for man, briefly depicted & implied fornication, French kissing; full female nudity (but no genitalia or full frontal images), many drawings of full female nudity & upper male nudity; alcohol use; and, smoking
GREAT EXPECTATIONS attempts to bring the characters and situations of the famous Charles Dickens' novel to life in modern day America with only marginal success. Though performances are eager and the script above average, the eroticizing of this story and the absence of the hard times of 19th Century England make this movie more of an earnest experiment than an entertaining crowd pleaser. Ethan Hawke plays Finn, a young fisherman in Florida who is given an unexpected grant to create art in New York City. There, he meets up with his childhood love, Estella, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Though they attempt to share true love, Estella marries another, and Finn gains success without happiness. He discovers his benefactor and returns home to the people he loves.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS is a very artistic movie with Florida landscapes, Manhattan cityscapes, and Finn's sketches and paintings. Story quality is enhanced with an A-list cast, and newcomers to the story will be surprised by the unexpected ending. Teenage audiences may enjoy the attractive leads and a snazzy look. Nevertheless, only a minimal amount of the original Dickens' language and intent is preserved. As a piece of pop fluff with a high bred name and some strong sexual scenes, this movie represents unrealized potential.